The News of the Day for Wednesday September 18, 2019


President Donald Trump ordered a major increase in sanctions on Iran on Wednesday as Saudi Arabia displayed remnants of drones and missiles it said were used in a crippling attack on its oil sites, “unquestionably sponsored” by Tehran. Trump's order followed repeated U.S. assertions that the Islamic Republic was behind Saturday’s attack and came hours after Saudi Arabia said the strike was a “test of global will”. Iran denied being involved and has threatened the U.S. it will retaliate “immediately” if Tehran is targeted over the attack, which was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The attack exposed gaps in Saudi air defense despite billions spent on Western military hardware. The Sept. 14 raids hit the world’s biggest crude oil processing facility and initially knocked out half of Saudi output, the world’s leading oil exporter. After spiking as much as 14% following the attacks, oil prices fell Wednesday after Saudi officials announced oil production would be fully restored within weeks.




The Federal Reserve again cut key interest rates a quarter point at the conclusion of its policy meeting Wednesday, after weeks of criticism from President Trump and no new progress in the trade impasse between the United States and China. The move brought the federal funds rate down to a target range of 1.75 percent and 2 percent, where it was in September 2018. It is the second cut in a row after the Federal Open Market Committee ordered a quarter-point reduction in July. It would also be just the second rate cut in the last decade. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in Switzerland this month that U.S. and global economies are growing at a moderate pace, but cautioned the Fed is monitoring "significant risks." Trump this week again called for a "big interest rate drop." He has previously criticized Powell's leadership and the Fed for not making rate cuts sooner.




The European Union said Wednesday it's open to Britain leaving the alliance without the key Irish "backstop," as long as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government presents an alternative in writing before the Oct. 31 deadline. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said any alternative to the provision -- which ensures a "soft" border for trade on the barrier between Ireland and Northern Ireland -- must be "operable." Juncker called the prospect of Britain leaving without an agreement a "palpable" risk."The backstop has been the primary obstacle in achieving an agreement. Former Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated a deal with the EU but lawmakers in London did not support it largely because they said it didn't do enough to protect the backstop. The Irish backstop would keep Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, in the European Union if no agreement is reached as a way to avoid a hard border.




The parties of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opponent Benny Gantz are locked in a close race that challenges Netenyahu's decade long hold on power in Jerusalem. More than 90 percent of ballots had been counted and Israel's three main television news channels were projecting a victory for Gantz's Blue and White Party. It is projected to win 32 seats and Netanyahu's Likud 31. By early Wednesday afternoon, about 25 thousand votes separated the two, with fewer than 500 thousand ballots left to count. If the figures hold, Gantz would be expected to be chosen as the next Israeli prime minister -- a post Netanyahu has held since 2009. The right-wing bloc that includes Likud, Yamina, UTJ and Shas is projected to win 55 seats in the Knesset, down from the 60 it secured in the last vote in April. The left-wing bloc, led by Gantz's party, is projected to win 56. If neither party secures the 61 seats needed for an outright majority, Israel could stage a third election.




President Trump on Wednesday named Robert O’Brien as his new national security adviser. O’Brien, the fourth person in two years to hold the job, is Trump's chief hostage negotiator and an established figure in Republican policy circles. The announcement of O’Brien’s selection comes a week after Trump ousted John Bolton from the post, after he and his hawkish national security adviser found themselves in strong disagreement over the administration’s approach to Iran, Afghanistan and a host of other global challenges. The sudden exit marked the latest departure of a prominent voice of dissent from Trump’s inner circle as the president has grown more comfortable following his gut instinct over the studious guidance offered by his advisers. O’Brien was among five candidates under consideration by the president. As the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department, O’Brien worked closely with the families of American hostages and advised administration officials on hostage issues.




Bermuda’s government is making final preparations for an expected close brush Wednesday with Hurricane Humberto, a powerful Category 3 storm. Authorities called up troops, ordered early closings of schools, transportation and government offices. Officials expected tropical storm-force winds to begin whipping at Bermuda in the morning and warned people on the British Atlantic island to prepare for hurricane-force gusts that could probably last until early Thursday. Humberto was predicted to pass just north of the territory of some 70 thousand people, though a small shift in its path could bring the storm over the island itself. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Humberto’s maximum sustained winds strengthened to 120 mph (195 kph) and it would probably remain a Category 3 hurricane through Thursday, though there could be some fluctuations in its winds. The storm was centered about 195 miles (310 kilometers) west of Bermuda early Wednesday, moving east-northeast at 16 mph (26 kph).




President Trump confirmed on Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency will revoke California’s waiver that allows it to require automakers to build cleaner vehicles than federal requirements demand - a move that will set off a massive legal battle. California wants 15.4% of vehicle sales by 2025 to be EVs or other zero-emission vehicles and 10 other states have adopted those requirements. Under Trump, federal regulators have backed freezing emissions requirements for new cars and trucks at 2020 levels through 2026. Administration officials say the final regulation will include a modest boost in annual efficiency requirements but far less than what the Obama administration set in 2012. Trump urged automakers to back the action, but so far none have publicly supported revocation of California’s authority. The move, which will also include the Transportation Department declaring California is pre-empted from regulating vehicle fuel economy, will spark legal challenges over issues including states’ rights and climate change that administration officials say could ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.




India’s government on Wednesday decided to ban e-cigarettes, expressing concern at the alarming rate at which vaping is becoming popular among the country’s youth and causing breathing illnesses. The ban was approved by the Cabinet. The government is expected to issue an ordinance soon prohibiting the manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertising related to e-cigarettes. The first offense will be punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 100 thousand rupees ($1,390), or both. For a subsequent offense, the punishment will be imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to 500 thousand rupees ($6,945). Government officials said that e-cigarettes were promoted as a way to get people out of their smoking habits but reports have shown that many are becoming addicted to them.




NBCUniversal announced new details of its upcoming streaming service, including what it's called: Peacock, a reference to the NBC logo. Peacock, launching in April 2020, is set to feature more than 15 thousand hours of programming, including reboots of Battlestar Galactica, Punky Brewster, and Saved by the Bell. The service will also feature content outside of the NBC network, including movies from Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation. Peacock will also be the exclusive streaming home of 'The Office', which is set to leave Netflix, where it has been among the streamer's most popular sitcom offerings. This announcement comes a few weeks before Apple launches its new streaming service, Apple TV+, which will shortly be followed by Disney's streaming service, Disney+.